Leeds prepares to accept flood protection plans to save 400 businesses

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Next week senior councillors in Leeds will be asked to approve proposals to proceed with the next phase of the Leeds Flood Alleviation Scheme which has the potential to protect almost 400 businesses.

At its meeting at Civic Hall on Wednesday 13 February, the council’s executive board will be asked to formally endorse a two-step plan which aims to provide Leeds with a one-in-200-year level of protection against the threat of flooding from the River Aire, as occurred with the Christmas floods in 2015.

With phase one of the scheme already completed offering protection for the city centre and downstream to Woodlesford, phase two offers a range of complementary measures to protect the Kirkstall Corridor which was badly hit by the impact of Storm Eva together with further measures up to the upper catchment of the River Aire.

With government funding of £65m confirmed, and plans to up council tax by 3.99%, Leeds City Council and the Environment Agency are keen for works to begin this summer on the first step of the plan to offer an initial one-in-100-year level of protection. This will then be upgraded to the full one-in-200-year level with a further element of work after the remainder of the funding to reach the full cost of £112.1m has been secured.

A key element of the plan is to use Natural Flood Management measures alongside landscaping and engineering works to minimise the threat of potential flooding. This includes land management and the planting of hundreds of thousands of trees along the river catchment, on a scale comparable with any such tree planting scheme in Europe.

Work has already been carried out on pilot sites along the catchment to test the implementation of possible measures and approaches as well as positive engagement with landowners and stakeholders along the river.

Advanced works have also been carried out with a new flood wall installed to protect businesses in Stourton, the removal of a platform underneath Gotts Bridge which could be blocked by debris, and river stewardship to clear debris and invasive species to improve water flow. The council has also worked with Yorkshire Water to install a valve to control water levels around Kirkstall Bridge retail park, as well as offering advice to businesses on flood protection and improving warning messages when there is a risk of a possible flood event.

Once successfully completed in full, the one-in-200-year scheme would offer enhanced protection to 1,048 residential properties and 370 businesses, as well as unlocking housing land for 1,613 new homes, helping to create 1,669 new jobs and an estimated economic benefit of £774million.

The first part of phase two would include the use of Natural Flood Management alongside defences in the form of embankments and walls, together with measures to prevent the erosion of the banks of the river.

To offer protection to Kirkstall and the surrounding area, river control measures will be installed to reduce the risk of flooding impacting on the historic Kirkstall Abbey, while part of the adjoining Kirkstall Meadows will become a wetland habitat for kingfishers, otters and fish together with significant tree planting.

Along Kirkstall Road and Kirkstall Valley Nature Reserve, landscaping and access improvement works are proposed including a new cycleway, footpath and two new footbridges.

Leeds City Council executive member Richard Lewis said: “These plans are an imaginative, ambitious and innovative solution to arguably the biggest threat we continue to face in Leeds, that of a repeat of the horrendous flooding of Christmas 2015. Until we have the best possible level of protection in place we will not stop pushing to deliver the reassurance our city, communities and businesses deserve as quickly as we can.

“Some concerns have been raised about the potential impact of some of the work we want to carry out, but we are committed to letting nature do the job for us as much as possible and looking to not only limit the impact on local environments but where we can to enhance them for everyone to be able to enjoy. This is a pragmatic two-step solution to get us to where we all want to be – as protected as we possibly can be in Leeds against the increasing threat of flooding.”